Jazz Fest Journal | Rotary Downs Drummer Zack Smith

Words & Images By: Zack Smith

Rotary Downs drummer Zack Smith has documented his experience at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in the band's hometown for us. Rotary Downs's new album, Traces, comes out on May 13 and will be available via iTunes and other outlets.

Needless to say Rotary Downs is one excited band. After more than two years in and out of the studio piecing together what is one of our favorite albums ever recorded, we are finally able to unleash it on the world by all means necessary. The album was ready in March, but we waited until the first weekend of Jazz Fest to do a local release coupled with our fairgrounds appearance and album release show at Gasa Gasa that same night, in order to capitalize on the many ears and eyes perked and awaiting new music.

We were able to start the Jazz Fest Festivities early, and I mean very early, at the WWL morning show. We arrived at their French Quarter studio at around 6 a.m., and began to load in our equipment as quiet as we could while watching the morning show go on. We were immediately greeted by one of the soundmen who told us that him and his wife were huge fans, that made us feel welcomed and not strangers in a strange land of the overproduced hair and makeup morning TV world.

After some what rusty beginning, we settled in to our caffeine haze and belted out short clips of new songs from our album Traces that were well received by the news crew. All in all, we had a great time being on set and together as a band promoting something that we feel so strongly about, and are very proud of. Eric Paulsen gave us a bunch of time to talk about the new record and promote our Friday afternoon set at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival the next day.

As some people know in the music circles, I am also a staff photographer for Jazz Fest. As a photographer and musician in New Orleans, it offers me a unique opportunity to constantly be involved in the creative side of New Orleans year- round. As both of my passions overlap through the year, no other time does it provide so much fun and stress as shooting and playing the same day at Jazz Fest. In years past Rotary Downs has played the first Saturday or the second Saturday, enough time for me to get in the groove of photographing the festival and then switching gears to play music. This year was a little different, we had a 12:40 set on the Samsung/Galaxy stage which provided little time for me to run around and shoot before I had to start warming my hands up and get my mind in gear for our hour-long set.

Warming up for our set did not take too long, as the first really hot day of the year happened at around noon. By the time the first song rolled I was sweating pretty good and the band was very loose. Overall we had a great set playing about 80% of new songs and 20% old crowd favorites that were received well by the early crowd.

After our set, I hung out with the band for a second to take a photo and then put the cameras back on the finish my day...

After editing my day of photos, I left the fairgrounds at around 9:30 to head to our album release show with the Mike Dillon band at Gasa Gasa. By this time I was getting a little tired, but the adrenaline was starting to set in as I walked up to the club and there was a line out the door. That felt good.

I met the band up in the green room and we crafted a new set list for the evening in order to capitalize off of the frenzied mayhem that the Mike Dillon band just created with the crowd. We ended up playing a great, high-energy show to a full house - we are putting and Gary Numan's "Cars" into our rotation the last two gigs and it's always met with raised hands and dancing feet, and this night it was received well. We even had a few people come up to us after the show who said they had heard us for the first time that day at the festival, and that they made the show as well. That was the best feeling ever because you never know how you are received at such a large show, and if people are enjoying the music. All in all, it was a great way to end a full day of music. We also got to hang out with our friend Marco Benevento who caught the last couple of songs after leaving is Stanton Moore duo gig. If I would've known he was there, we would've had him up on stage!

"The fun never stops"

After full weekend of photographing the festival, Monday through Wednesday is usually for me to catch up on my own client work, but not on Monday. We were set up to do live performance for the band in the "Jam In The Van" series. This is a very cool concept of a van that tours around the country and is decked out with amps and a drum set and video recording gear. We played three songs from our new album, amidst a inquisitive sidewalk crew awaiting entry into WWOZ piano night at the house of blues. Needless to stay it was a cross culture pollination experiment that went well!

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[Published on: 5/5/14]

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